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A spectre calls

thedoctor issue 4

Long-dead doctors padding the wards, the bed the nurses told you not to sleep in, and why it’s good to exorcise regularly. Your NHS ghost stories, compiled by Neil Hallows 

How do you find a ghost? First, switch off the lights. Next, take a deep breath. And finally, publish a blog about the curious absence of anything supernatural in NHS hospitals and wait for the contradictory comments to come charging at you like a headless horseman.

A few weeks ago, the Secret Doctor, who is particularly strong on what you might call the sub-culture of the NHS, wrote a thoughtful piece asking why there aren’t more ghost stories arising from hospitals.

They are, after all, places where a number of people, sadly, die, and they are are often old, imposing buildings replete with long, dark corridors.

The author’s conclusion was that ‘there is too much actual, intense human experience going on around us to leave room for phantoms’.

One thing we’ve noticed with our blogs is that if you want doctors’ opinions, the best way to get them is to publish the opposite view. ‘Ghosts: Not available on the NHS,’ was the headline of the blog. Oh yes they are, you said. Freely available and without prescription.

So, since it’s Christmas, here’s a flavour of what you told us:

‘I live in a converted mental asylum,’ one of you begins.

‘I saw a woman in Victorian dress throw a baby out of the window. I’ve also seen a Sister in full ’50s matron [attire] float past the window, heard old records playing and seen a hospital food tray floating in mid-air.’

Well, it must be a relief to get to work then? ‘We have an on-call room that a spirit comes in and sits on the bed.’

OK, have you tried security? ‘The security guard came to investigate and saw a woman in a white nightdress jump off the roof.’

Well, top that. To which the profession replies, hold my drink.

There is the doctor who trained at the Queen Elizabeth Hospital in Gateshead, and thought they were smart in finding a bed in a disused isolation ward to grab some sleep.

Don’t, seriously, don’t, warned the midwives, there is a ghost of a woman who died of septic shock.

‘I scoffed, but changed my tune when a freezing chill swept over me, and the door slammed.’


Door banging

And there’s a bit of life advice for you – listen to the nurses and midwives.

‘If you want ghosts, talk to the nurses,’ says one person commenting on the blog.

‘Many will tell you about the footsteps or door banging heard just before a death on their ward at night, or of the strange shadows and the no-go areas they will not venture in to. It’s only the doctors who don’t see the ghosts.’

It’s nurses we can thank for recounting the angry exchange between a patient and her husband, who visited her in hospital with the sole and malicious purpose of telling her she was a ‘dirty old crone’.

The argument upset the nurse who overheard it, although she was more upset when she learned that the husband had in fact died two years previously.

It was a nurse who not only saw a ghost but was ‘woken by a strong pressure downwards on her chest’ while resting in a side room.

The side room had recently been vacated by a patient who was a medium. Isn’t it annoying when patients leave things behind?


Ghost in the mortuary

A characteristic of ghosts which emerges from the stories is that, while they may traditionally be relaxed about passing through brick walls, they are positively sticklers when it comes to the horizontal.

At one hospital, a centurion is said to lurk by the mortuary, dutifully following the level of a Roman road. The ghosts at the former Evelina London Children’s Hospital in south London appeared to be paddling ankle-deep on the floor, walking as they were in the footsteps of the past.

‘What height do they walk at now most of the site is a garden?’ asks Marc Rowland.

Some of these stories are told for camaraderie, or perhaps the opposite given that their purpose seems to be to frighten the most recent recruits. But some of them have been reported and ‘dealt with’ by surprisingly receptive hospital managers.

Hats off (or heads off?) to managers at Warrington. When a locum doctor reported ‘noises and footsteps’ in the disused ward in which he slept, he said he was not coming back unless he could sleep next time in the mess.

‘The HR department wasn’t surprised – they said this was not the first time they had been told this and respected my request.’


Smell of pipe smoke

At Aberdeen and Newcastle, we are told, the hospital even managed to arrange for an exorcism. And to think that at some hospitals they can’t even manage to get a coffee machine fixed.

There’s a grey lady, a white lady, a confused little girl in a red coat. Buzzers buzz, taps burst into life, and there are ‘on-call rooms haunted by doctors who killed themselves wracked with guilt after a patient’s death and the smell of pipe smoke because a deceased porter has arrived to take a soul on their final journey’.

But what of the floating ghost of Galway?

At Merlin Park Hospital, a doctor tells us ‘the nurses in one unit were particularly freaked out by a ghostly figure they’d seen flying through the air outside the unit only a short while before. The apparition was a white, floating ghost, that flew past at speed in the dark.

‘What kind of mass hysteria was this?

‘It was me, on my bike, white coat flapping in the breeze...’

Doctors can be scary too.

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